Signs of the End (Summary)

  • Last revised 12th March 2015: updates made to the sections:

    • The Signs of the End: Wars and uprisings
    • The Signs of the End: Pestilences Part 1 Modern Diseases
    • The Signs of the End: Pestilences Factors favouring pandemics: Drug resistant microbes
    • The Signs of the End: Pestilences Factors favouring pandemics: Experimentation going wrong
    The Signs of the End: Nuclear terrorism & War
The Signs of the End: Persecution & Oppression
The Signs of the End: Movements towards world government
T
he Signs of the End: Global warming
The Signs of the End: Secularisation
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  • Here is an outline of Jesus’ teaching (plus a little from Paul and Revelation):
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  • We might call the preliminary signs “Reminders of the End” because they are repeated and Jesus said when we see them “The End is not yet.” However they can and should remind us that the End is coming. Obviously when they occur, our first concern should be to pray and show compassion for those adversely affected by the occurrences.
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  •        I.            THE PRELIMINARY (REPEATED) SIGNS (OR REMINDERS OF THE END)
  • Wars, uprisings (Matt 24:6-18)
  • Famines (Matt 24:6-18)
  • Earthquakes (Matt 24:6-18)
  • Pestilences (Luke 21:11)
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  •     II.            THE INTERMEDIATE SIGNS
  • Persecution (Mt 24:9ff)
  • Turning away from the faith (Mt 24:10)
  • False prophets and messiahs (Mt 24:11, 24)
  • Worldwide evangelism (Mt 24:14)
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  •  III.            THE IMMINENT SIGNS

  • Cosmic disturbances (Mt 24:29)
  • The Jewish people regaining control of Jerusalem (Lk 21:24).
  • The rebellion and deceptive ‘signs and wonders’ of the man of lawlessness (Antichrist) who proclaims himself to be God (2 Thess 2:1-12)
  • The sudden financial collapse of the world system (‘Babylon’) (Rev 18)
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  • However, from time to time I will comment on current events relating them to the signs of the End, because that is what Jesus encouraged us to do. You will find these at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=311.
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  • The Reminders of the End

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  • I want to look briefly at the early Signs of the End Times Jesus mentions in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 in answer to the disciples question about when the End would be. As we have seen, they are false messiahs, war, uprisings, famines, earthquakes and pestilences. He makes it quite clear they are not to be taken as meaning the End is near. Rather he says: “the end is still to come .... All these are the beginning of birth-pains.” This is a technical term meaning the birth pains of the Messiah, i.e. the traumas which will herald his return. They are Reminders that the End is coming, but not yet. Jesus wants us to think frequently about the End so we should take note of the daily news, pray about it and respond compassionately to, say, victims of famine and natural disasters, but we should also note certain events as Reminders of the End.

  • 1.    War and uprisings (Matthew 24:4-8)

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  • Is war increasing? Some Christians say it is but the idea that war is increasing overall seems not at present to be borne out by the facts, according to some people. They say that one of the reasons why war may seem to have increased is that we now have global media which report each conflict graphically into our living rooms. In the last decade there have been less deaths per annum than in each of the previous hundred years. However there were 200 million war deaths in the 20th century.  The Global Peace Index discovered that since 2008, 111 countries have deteriorated in levels of peace. There are only 11 countries in the world free from conflict. Also the number of refugees has exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War II.
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  • There are various negative factors in the situation today:
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  • a.       Terrorism: the threat of terrorism has grown in recent years.  General Martin Dempsey said the Islamic State “has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.” British Home Secretary Theresa May said the If ISIS consolidated “we will see the world’s first truly terrorist state. Terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons.” It already has advanced artillery, armoured cars, battlefield tanks & anti-aircraft guns man-portable air defence system and three Russian-built MiG jets.  It has control of a large chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad.
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  • b.      Civil unrest: this has increased as we have seen in the Middle East
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  • c.       Nuclear war: the threat has decreased since the end of the cold war but there is a real danger of terrorists gaining nuclear weapons.  There is a danger of catastrophic nuclear accidents. In 1961 a US plane broke apart and dropped two nuclear bombs. In 1980 a worker dropped a spanner in a nuclear silo and the missile (but not warhead) exploded. In 1983 Russia mistakenly registered a missile strike from US and in 1995 they mistook a Norwegian research rocket for a US ballistic missile.
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  • d.      Unprecedented population growth, climate change, and resource shortages could lead to war in the future.

  • 2.    Famines (Matthew 24:7)

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  • Famine is, of course, still a huge problem. It may be caused by crop failure, overpopulation, war, control of resources and income by military, political and economic elites, land being controlled by absentee landlords and their agents producing meat and butter not for the locals but to ship overseas or government policies (including the policies of rich countries). A good deal of malnutrition is not caused by famine as such, but rather by poverty. The world produces enough food for everyone but it is not shared justly. We should remember that when the fullness of God’s kingdom comes it will be characterised by justice.
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  • Spiralling grain prices, stock market speculation, climate change and corrupt and failing governments have left almost a billion people facing starvation.
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  • Climate change is a major factor which is going to make the earth less efficient for farming. Hurricanes will increase in intensity, and storms, floods and droughts will become more frequent. Changes in temperature and rainfall will affect what crops can be grown and productivity. It will also increase animal and plant pests and diseases. The FAO warned: ‘Slow-onset climate changes are expected to have potentially catastrophic effects on food production in many developing countries, particularly between 2050 and 2100.
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  • There were some 37 famines recorded in the 20th century and there have been 17 already in the 21st century.

  • 3.    Earthquakes (Matthew 24:7)

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  • Earthquakes killed an average of 50,184 people per annum between 2000 and 2008. The US Geological Survey (USGS) estimate that there are over a million earthquakes per annum but most go undetected, either because they are in very remote areas or because they are very small. The National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) records some 50 earthquakes a day – approximately 20,000 per annum. In a recent 30 day period the USGS recorded 609 earthquakes, 12 of them more than magnitude 6.
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  • As with other preliminary, repeated signs mentioned in Matthew and Luke, some people claim that there is a growing number of earthquakes. Again, Jesus did not speak about any increase..
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  • The NEIC records from 1900 onwards show that there are likely to be 16 major earthquakes per year, including 15 over magnitude 7 and one over magnitude 8. The data shows that this was only exceeded in 8 years (1976, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011). In 2010 there were 24 earthquakes over magnitude 7.  The number of earthquakes over magnitude 6 has stayed relatively constant. 
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  • One reason why it seems that earthquakes are increasing is because of a larger number of seismograph stations (from 350 in 1930 to over 8000 today) and an improvement in global communication. Before the 20th century records of earthquakes are much more limited. However, from the records we have since 1700, five of the largest earthquakes (over magnitude 8 ) have been in the 20th century and three in the 21st century.

  • 4.    Pestilences (Luke 21:11) Part 1 Modern diseases

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  • Major advances in medicine, including preventative medicine, have transformed human health, especially in the developed world but ‘pestilences’ are still very much with us.
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  • On the 28th January 2014 the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal published a study on the Black Death. It pointed out that the 6th century Justinian Plague which led to the final collapse of the Roman Empire and the 14th century were both caused by the same bacterium Yersinia. The scientists concerned think the bacterium re-emerged in the 19th century “Third Plague” pandemic in China and India, which killed millions. They then warned that their findings suggest another plague pandemic could occur from another strain of the same bacterium. The added that long periods of warm, wet weather preceded both the Justinian Plague and the Black Death, which was thought to have resulted in an explosion in the rat population. This is worrying in view of current weather trends.
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  • Researchers have compiled a database of 335 infectious diseases first acknowledged as a potential threat between 1940 and 2004.
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  • The World Health Organisation lists various disease outbreaks. The most extensive in the 21st century are Avian influenza (in 25 countries 2003-12), Cholera (in 36 countries 2000-11), Dengue fever (in 16 countries) Ebola (in 7 countries 2000-11),   Meningitis (in 29 countries 2000-12), Plague (in 8 countries 2001-10), Polio (in 25 countries 2000-11), Rift Valley fever (in 8 countries 2000-10), SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome - in numerous countries 2003-4) and Yellow fever (in 22 countries 2000-11). The WHO lists a further 46 diseases including Anthrax, Botulism, Hepatitis E, Influenza, Lassa fever, Legionellosis, Malaria, and Swine flu.

More recently Ebola has spread alarmingly in various African countries. Ebola is “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times,” said Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization in October 2014. She added that it is a “crisis for international peace and security” and added “I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments in already very poor countries. I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure.”  Some, however, have accused her of alarmism.
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  • Nathan Wolfe is Visiting Professor in Human Biology at Stanford University and director of the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative. He stresses the importance of Ebola, SARS, Bird Flu, HIV, influenza and Malaria as potential pandemics. He added that there is a possibility of viruses such as Bird Flu (which didn’t affect many humans despite concerns) mutating into a form which could seriously affect humans.
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  • AIDS has now surpassed the Black Death and could kill 60 million people by 2015.

  • 5.    Pestilences (Luke 21:11) Part 2 Danger of pandemics

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  • Health authorities are alert to the continuing danger of pandemics. For example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) states: “Today, there is growing recognition that an outbreak anywhere can potentially represent an emergency of international public health concern. Outbreaks threaten the health of the world’s population. They require regional and global alert and response mechanisms to ensure rapid access to technical advice and resources and to support national public health capacity. No single institution or country has all of the capacities to respond to international public health emergencies caused by epidemics and by new and emerging infectious diseases.”
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  • Sally Osberg, CEO of the Skoll Foundation, which encourages and supports innovators who seek to solve the world’s most pressing problems, said: “Pandemics pose an enormous threat to us all. Often, by the time a new virus is discovered, it’s too late to contain it.”
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  • Writing in the Wall Street Journal in May 2009, Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist, and chairman of the National Biosurveillance Advisory Subcommittee, stated: “We might be entering an Age of Pandemics. In our lifetimes, or our children's lifetimes, we will face a broad array of dangerous emerging 21st-century diseases, man-made or natural, brand-new or old, newly resistant to our current vaccines and antiviral drugs .... Naturally occurring diseases with pandemic potential are much more ubiquitous and more certain to occur. Over the last decades, we have seen more than three dozen new infectious diseases appear, some of which could kill millions of people with one or two unlucky gene mutations or one or two unfavorable environmental changes.”

  • Factors favouring pandemics: Global communication
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  • We now live in a global village and so the possibility of infection being spread around the world is high. One example proves the point. A flight from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles stopped in Lima in 1992, and picked up some seafood infected with the cholera then making the rounds in Peru. As a result, dozens of passengers who arrived in Los Angeles, some of whom then changed planes and flew on to Nevada and even as far as Japan, found that they had contracted cholera. Within days that single airplane spread cholera 10,000 miles around the whole rim of the Pacific Basin.

  • a.      Factors favouring pandemics: Increased contacts between humans and animals

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  • Scientists are aware that many diseases spread to humans from animals. In April 2009 Scientific American reported the likely sources of various diseases, namely AIDS (from chimpanzees), Hepatitis B (from apes), Influenza A (from wild birds), Plague (from rodents), Dengue fever (from Old World primates), East African and West African sleeping sickness (from wild and domestic ruminants), vivax  malaria (from Asian macaques), Yellow fever (from African primates) and Chagas’ disease (from many wild and domestic animals).  Bird flu, SARS, West Nile, Monkey-pox and Ebola also came from animals.
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  • Scholars such as Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, have found at least 868 human pathogens that infect both animals and humans, although in the last 40 years, only HIV has become a pandemic, with some 40 million people affected, rising to possibly 60 million in three years time.

  • b.      Factors favouring pandemics: Causes of increased contacts between humans and animals

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  •         i.            Global warming affects agriculture and leads to deforestation. Yet forests served as a barrier to viruses which pass from animals to humans. A 2009 Oxfam report on climate change says many diseases are already migrating as temperatures rise.
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  •       ii.            World poverty causes poor people to eat more wild animals.
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  •     iii.            Factory farming increases risk to human health.
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  • c.       Factors favouring pandemics: Drug-resistant microbes and Bioterrorism

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  •         i.            The spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria is a major threat to human health. The World Health Organisation calls it “one of the three greatest threats to human health.”
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  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in September 2013 that 23,000 people in the United States die each year as a direct result of drug resistant infections and 14,000 die from related infections. It lists 18 bacteria which are a serious threat to patients and its director, Tom Frieden said this resistance is “one of our most serious health threats” which would undermine life-saving treatments such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis and organ transplantation.
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  • Dr Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organisation said in 2012 that there was a danger that normal infections such as "strep throat or a child's scratched knee" could kill, because bacteria had evolved to survive treatments.
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  • David Willetts, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science has warned that this problem could be as serious threat as global warming.
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  • The UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies said drug-resistant infections could lead to an “apocalyptic scenario” in the mid-21st century.

In 2014 David Cameron spoke to the press about the emergence of untreatable bacteria. He said: “This is not some distant threat, but something happening right now … If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine, where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again. That simply cannot be allowed to happen and I want to see a stronger, more coherent global response.”

Dr Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organisation's assistant director general for health security said that unless adequate international action is taken, once-beaten diseases will re-emerge as global killers and common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades will once again kill people. It is regarded by experts as a threat equal to climate change and global terrorism.
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  • Antibiotics are not only used unnecessarily in humans but also in food animals. It is estimated that 80% of the antibiotics used in America are used on animals to promote growth.
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  • Jesus said one of the “birth-pains” (sufferings preceding his coming) would be “pestilence” (Luke 21:10). We should take note of relevant current events but we should also pray about these issues and for those adversely affected by them.
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  •       ii.            Bioterrorism: a few years ago Martin Rees, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge and head of the Royal Society, predicted that bioterror or bioerror would unleash a catastrophic event claiming one million lives in the next two decades.

  • d.      Factors favouring pandemics: experimentation going wrong

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  • Some scientists are exploring how Bird Flu (H5N1) could become more infectious and cause a global pandemic. However 22 other scientists wrote to scientific journals recently criticising these experiments as creating a danger of accidental release of a pandemic strain of the virus. It has killed half the patients infected by it.
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  • Professor Lord May, a former government chief scientist and past president of the Royal Society, called for a moratorium on this research back in January 2013 because “there is the opportunity for evil people to pervert it.”
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  • Dr Robert Webster, a virologist, said: “As long as H5N1 is out there in the world, there is the possibility of disaster… There is the theoretical possibility that it can acquire the ability to transmit human-to-human …. And then God help us.”
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  • Dr. Thomas Inglesby, a bioterrorism expert and director of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said: “It’s just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus. And it’s a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it.”
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  • When asked about the possibility of a future virus wiping out tens of millions of people, disease scientists give a range of answers from maybe to probably.

In September 2014 scientists discovered old vials containing smallpox, ricin, plague and botulism between 60 and 100 years old in a US laboratory. They were not stored in accordance with security regulations. In July 2014 6 vials of smallpox viruses were found in a cardboard box in a Maryland laboratory. The same month anthrax was discovered in unlocked refrigerators (or refrigerators with a key in the lock) some in an unrestricted hallway. Some anthrax containers were missing and had to be found. Some 75 scientists in Atlanta may have been exposed to anthrax because proper procedures were not followed. Samples were transferred to laboratories not equipped to deal with them.
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  • What scholars say on the reminders (or repeated signs) of the end

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  • Jesus says that they (false messiahs, war, uprisings, famines, earthquakes and pestilences) are “the beginning of birth-pains” (v. 8). This is a technical term. The rabbis used this term of the sufferings which would precede Messiah’s coming. Professor C E B Cranfield, comments “Though these things do not mean that the End is come, they do point to it and are a pledge of it. To the eye of faith they are full of promise.” Professor Anthony Hoekema says when we see these events: “We are not to think that the return of Christ is immediately at hand. These signs point toward the end and provide a pledge that it will come.” R T France says ‘birth pains’ refers to  the period of suffering which must lead up to the new age)” and adds: “while all such events have an ultimate connection with the final consummation, they are far from being its immediate precursors, and so cannot be used to plot its nearness.” So these events are to be seen as the beginning of the sufferings preceding the End of the Age, and as Reminders that the End is coming. [see “Living in the light of the End (which is a new beginning) FULL VERSION” at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=422 for more details and comments by scholars]
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  • More on the “beginning of the birth-pains” [of the coming of messiah] matt 24:8

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  • We have noted that Jesus mentions such signs as war, famine and earthquakes. In this area, a report has just come out that alarming quantities of Methane are being released from the Arctic (due to global warming) which, if it continues will cause much more extreme weather, damaging rise in sea level and spreading of deserts.  The results would be catastrophic for millions of people. Methane is at least 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The report claims the enormous economic effects of this Methane release could be £40 trillion, almost the whole annual global economic output (although that figure is open to debate). The gas is being released because floating sea ice (which reflects the sun’s heat back into space) has melted dramatically, as has permafrost (hitherto permanently-frozen ice in the Arctic tundra) which traps Methane beneath it. Experts say this has only been detected in the last ten years. As always, our first response should be to pray – for governments to take appropriate action and for the protection of the vulnerable. But, as Jesus said, we should also recognise this as a “birth-pain of the coming of Messiah.”  Linked with other factors, such as nuclear weapons being obtained by terrorists or rogue states, it makes the apocalyptic predictions of the Book of Revelation (however symbolical their language) seem very credible.
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  • Inevitably some people have criticised the Report, saying it won’t have catastrophic results. If you’re interested see the article “Arctic methane catastrophe scenario is based on new empirical observations” in The Guardian which states that these criticisms are based on outdated assumptions. Methane levels are at unanticipated record highs. Prof Peter Wadhams, head of Polar ocean physics at Cambridge University said critics were unaware of unique and unprecedented factors.
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  • A 2010 scientific analysis led by the UK's Met Office in Review of Geophysics stated: “Overall, uncertainties are large, and it is difficult to be conclusive about the time scales and magnitudes of methane feedbacks, but significant increases in methane emissions are likely, and catastrophic emissions cannot be ruled out... The risk of a rapid increase in [methane] emissions is real but remains largely unquantified.”
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